Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you. – Pueblo –
My mother liked to live in denial and found life comfortable there. There were no final farewells from her, no imparting of the wisdom earned by 98 years of hard graft. Ten days before she died, when she was bed bound but still afraid of falling, she insisted that if I would just let her get up and exercise, ‘just walk in front of the house’, she would be fine.
We couldn’t live in denial with her. My daughter, her dearest friends, and I all knew what was coming. The hospice nurse told us. The nurse, a tall man of indefatigable good humour and a love of Impressionist art, took her blood pressure and listened to her heart one afternoon and said it won’t be long now, perhaps hours, at most days. I had grown so used to the way things were: the sanctuary of the hospice, the visits and the visitors, leaving after dark and walking along Castro Street with its blast of libido driven life force. The news came like a bucket of ice.
A friend was there to chant Buddhist prayers; she changed to gospel songs and had a lovely voice. I emailed some others, another emailed me and three of us did vigil by the bed. We held her hand, rubbed her feet, stroked her hair and told her it was okay to leave. We went through the list of everyone she loved and told her the ways in which they would be all right. I called my daughter and held the phone up to my mother’s ear. Late evening we were hungry and had a small feast of my mother’s favourite food. We sang some more and sometimes I cried.
The evening nurse found my mother improved and we decided it could be days, perhaps even weeks, and everyone else went home. I sat by the bed and read to her: poems and prayers from all the religions I could find — Hindu, Sufi, the Lords Prayer, some Psalms, African, Native American. I slept on the floor wrapped in a comforter.
In the morning her breathing sounded like an ailing machine. Others came back and a fourth person joined the vigil. We touched her, held her hand, sang, told stories and laughed until late evening. Someone found Pete Seeger’s version of How Can I Keep from Singing and played it. I think it was the last song she heard.
Her grip on living was so strong, so firm, we thought that she would stay through another night, so only two of were there. Half an hour before midnight a Filipino nurse came in. He felt her feet. She was growing cold; it was staring. Open the window, he said, turn on a light and don’t let your tears touch her. At midnight, my daughter rang. She was telling my mother how much she loved when my mother’s breathing stopped.
A nurse, bless her, found a large purple hydrangea – I don’t know where at two am in the dark – and put it in my mother’s white, folded hands.
Hold on to what is good
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even when it is a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even when it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life
even when it is easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.
– Pueblo –